Waltz with Bashir (2008)

An (adult) animated war documentary that explores the psychological trauma of war and scars that refuse to heal for years to come.

9/7/20234 min read

Ari Folman in 'Waltz with Bashir'
Ari Folman in 'Waltz with Bashir'

Hebrew, 90 minutes, 2008

Director: Ari Folman

Voice Cast: Ari Folman, Miki Leon, Yehezkel Lazarov, original voices

Awards: Nominee, Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival, 2008; Nominee, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Academy Awards, 2009;Nominee Best Animated Film and Best Film not in English Language, BAFTA Awards, 2009; Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globe Awards, 2009; Best Foreign Film Cesar Awards, 2009; Nominated for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenwriter and Winner, Best Composer, European Film Awards, 2008; The film won 46 Awards and was nominated for 63 other Awards.

‘Waltz with Bashir’ is an animated war documentary. Director Ari Folman tries to reconstruct events surrounding ill fated ‘Sabra and Shatila’ massacre. It all starts when an old friend, Boaz (voice dubbed by Miki Leon) recounts his nightmare he has since last 20 years. In that nightmare, he witnesses 26 angry dogs run towards his apartment in Tel Aviv and stop there, glaring at him. The reason, he says, might be because during the Israel - Lebanon war (1982) when his regiment would raid any locality at night, the dogs would bark, alert the residents and they would flee. So the unit entrusted Boaz to kill dogs knowing well that he was incapable of shooting men. Boaz ended up killing 26 dogs and he still remembers each and every dog. When Boaz asks Ari about his war experiences, Ari draws a blank. Ari, stirred by this incidence tries to think about his war memories as he was drafted in army at a young age of 19 years. After hard thinking, he remembers him and two fellow soldiers in sea along Beirut’s beach at night, swimming while flares are lighting up the sky. Somehow, he connects this vision with ‘Sabra and Shatila massacre’ but can’t connect the two incidents. Next morning, he visits his childhood friend who is now a professional therapist. He advises Ari to talk to others who he thinks were with him that night and reconstruct the entire sequence so that he gets a clear idea of reality and fiction. So Ari sets off on a voyage to discover the reality and fill the gaps in his story.

He first visits Carmi Can’an (voice dubbed by Yehezkel Lazarov), a war veteran, who now lives in Netherlands and who Ari thinks was with him that night. Carmi reveals that he joined Army to prove his ‘masculinity’ because others thought of him as nerd. However, Carmi says, he doesn’t recollect anything related to massacre even though he remembers being in Beirut. Next he goes to Ronny Dayag, part of tank crew. Ari tells him about transporting dead on his first night and asks him was he there. He says he might be there because they were in that area. However, he too doesn’t remember Ari. He rounds off his story by saying that he feels guilty because he was the only survivor from his unit after his unit was ambushed and all were killed except him.

He then goes to talk to Shmuel Frenkel, another war veteran, who is now a Judo-Karate instructor and who was in Ari’s infantry unit. Frenkel recalls that a kid with RPG had destroyed their tank and killed his crew members. Ari asks him was he there? Frenkel replies in affirmative, saying that he was always there. To Ari’s surprise, he doesn’t remember it at all! Ari then discusses this with Prof. Zahava Solomon, a post trauma expert who reasons that it is possible that his mind has forgotten the incident by placing him ‘outside’ the event even though he was part of it and hence it has “disassociated” him with the incident. Next Ari is with a friend telling him how he landed in Beirut as his unit was ordered and they got stuck on a junction when snipers started firing at them from an abandoned hotel. And during this crossfire he spotted Ron Ben-Yishai, Israeli war reporter walking tall despite bullets flying past him and his cameraman bending and crawling with him. So Ron Ben Yishai is drawn in to the picture and he recounts what he saw that day.

Soon, their unit is surrounded by enemy snipers and gunmen and is fired at, from all sides. Frenkel recalls that he could not manage fire with ‘Galil’ so he asks his fellow soldier Erez to give his ‘MAG’ which he declines. Frenkel snatches the MAG from him, runs with it in the middle of the road and fires indiscriminately at snipers. Ari recalls this adventure of Frenkel as he was “dancing, dodging bullets and shooting at the same time with Bashir’s posters in background’. Bashir Gemayel was the Lebanese militia commander who was elected as Lebanon’s President in 1982 but was killed before taking charge. This is how film derived its name. What happens next is a climax sequence when Ari recalls his exact association with ‘Sabra and Shatila ‘ massacre and is able to fill in the blanks which he earlier did not recall.

‘Waltz with Bashir’ is an amazing, stark and chilling documentary served in animated format. Ari Folman, the director, brings open his first person account of war horrors by singling out one incident, one tragedy in the form of ‘Sabra and Shatila massacre’ and how it affects an individual scarring him or her for the lifetime. Various interviews paint a jumbled up picture with big gaps as each participant, all soldiers, has his own perception, his own story of real and fiction and his own grief to deal with…for lifetime.

About the director, Ari Folman

Born in December, 1962 in Haifa, Israel, Ari’s parents were Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors. He studied at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Film and Television. Ari is a film and Television director, screenwriter, animator and film score composer.

He started making short film and documentaries. In 1991, he made a short documentary, ‘Shan’anan Si’ with Ori Sivan, a fellow film and TV director. His first feature, ‘Saint Clara’ was made in 1996 for which he wrote screenplay and co-directed the film with Ori Sivan. The film is based on a novel ‘The Ideas of Saint Clara’ by Pavel Kohout in which a young girl named Clara discovers that she has paranormal powers, allowing her to predict the future. The film won 6 Ophir Awards, (Israel’s Film academy awards) and received Special Jury Prize at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 1996.

Then came Made in Israel (in 2001) and ‘Waltz with Bashir’ (in 2008), ‘The Congress’ (in 2013) and ‘Where is Anne Frank’ (in 2021). As a 19 year old soldier, Ari witnessed ‘Sabra and Shatila’ massacre in which hundreds of civilians, mostly Palestinian and Lebanese, were killed by militia of Lebanese forces. This tragedy forms the basis of his present film, ‘Waltz with Bashir’.